Will Arnett has made a career out of playing men who are equal parts self-interest and self-loathing. On the spectrum of Gob Bluth to BoJack Horseman, Arnett’s characters are usually men who may want to do good, but they can’t get out of their own selfish way to actually do it. In the new Netflix series, Flaked, whose eight-episode first season premieres tomorrow, Arnett stars as Chip, a recovering alcoholic who has spent the last ten years of his life trying to make amends for killing a man while driving drunk. Unfortunately, “making amends” for Chip is doing minimum effort while making stools and running a mostly empty furniture store, bickering with his supposed best friend, Dennis (David Sullivan), chasing women nearly half his age, and not really growing up at all while he rides his bike around Venice, California. Nearly every character forcefully says some variation of “Chip really is a good guy,” but viewers are given absolutely no reason to believe this.
Part of what is so frustrating about Flaked is how aimless it is. For the first five (of eight) episodes, little happens. Chip needs to talk to his landlord, but doesn’t. Chip needs to sign his divorce papers, but doesn’t. Chip should probably try to earn a living, but why bother? It’s one thing to have a deeply flawed protagonist who owns up to his lesser impulses, but Chip is so passive that his cruelty to others comes off as an afterthought. The problem is that every character is so deeply drenched in irony that they stay flat. Chip builds three-legged stools because they require the absolute minimum of parts to still stay standing. Dennis, also a recovering alcoholic, is a wine salesman. The buffoonish Cooler (George Basil) is not only an aspiring stand-up comedian who doesn’t tell jokes, he’s also a Venice activist who really lives in Del Mar. These men go through their lives not really doing much of anything except playing paddle ball and talking about how much they dislike each other, leaving viewers wondering why they’re even friends at all. While the bonds forged between former addicts is surely strong, Chip and Dennis are some of the most contentious friends in recent memory. (If you don’t shout “JUST BREAK UP ALREADY” at your screen before the series is over, you have a stronger constitution than I do.) Between Dennis’ crippling self-doubt and Chip’s penchant for manipulation, these two are toxic to themselves and others.
Also, while I am certainly not expecting feminism in a show like Flaked, the treatment of the female characters is truly regressive. When Chip and Dennis first clap eyes on the young and beautiful London (Ruth Kearney), instead of treating her like, I don’t know, a human being, the two men engage in childish antics to gather information on her while claiming dibs like boys on the elementary school playground. London, Chip’s sort of not girlfriend Kara (Lina Esco), Dennis’ mother Jackie (Kirstie Alley), and Chip’s sort of ex-wife Tilly (Heather Graham) are not fully formed characters. They are either catalysts to create conflict or change in the men, or they’re merely there to proclaim the apparent wonders of Chip. Throw in the endless parade of twentysomething beach babes who hang on Chip’s every half-baked platitude, and you’ll begin to wonder if the creators of this show have ever actually met a real human woman.
It’s a real shame that the show isn’t better, because there are enough good ingredients for success. Arnett, as aimless as his character is, is good, sometimes even great, in the role. There is a scene in episode six after the plot actually moves forward that features an absurd twist. Yet Arnett sells it as a man whose development has been arrested to the point of breaking. While Arnett has long been a go-to man for strong comedic performances, here he exhibits some true dramatic weight. He created the show with The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret writer Mark Chappell, and Arrested Development‘s Mitch Hurwitz serves as executive producer. The talent is there, but the execution is so off.
Perhaps the problem is that we’ve seen this story too many times: upper-middle-class white men behaving like frat bros and overcoming their malaise through the love of a good (young) woman and either realizing all of the potential that they had inside all along or throwing it all away in a crass betrayal of themselves and their loved ones. If you want something better, try Louie or the Arnett-starring BoJack Horseman. But if you’re on the hunt for anything profound, Flaked is definitely the wrong place to look. It’s as empty as Chip’s stool store.
All episodes of Flaked will be available on Netflix Friday, March 11.